Thursday, 18 March 2021

The Castle in the War of the Roses

 In his - highly recommended - one volume history of the Wars of the Roses, John Gillingham writes "In the Wars of the Roses there were few sieges and only one of any consequence". Despite titling his book "The Castle in the Wars of the Roses", it is sieges with which Dan Spencer is primarily concerned. And, as seems to be the custom among academics, Dr Spencer does not agree with Professor Gillingham. According to him, he "demonstrates the significant role of siege warfare during the Wars of the Roses". So, which is it? For me, Spencer more than adequately shows that there were actually quite a lot of sieges; he names 36, and makes a persuasive case that there would have been others unrecorded by history. However, it's hard to believe that any of them really made a difference; indeed very few of them lasted beyond a few days. As will all writers on the period the author can only go on what records remain, so the book focuses on what we know about rather than what was necessarily important at the time. I would also suggest that there isn't quite enough material to make a full length book, and that there has been a certain amount of padding out with the general military and political background. Still, I enjoyed it and would recommend it to those with a particular interest in the subject, perhaps not so much to the general reader. 

Dr Spencer gave one of the talks in this winter's online lecture series from the Royal Armouries, on 'The Development of Gunpowder Weapons in Medieval England", which at the time of writing is still available on the Armouries' YouTube channel. (As an aside, if you do watch any of those lectures you need to know that nothing happens until fifteen minutes or so into the video; I have no idea why they don't edit them properly.) The things that stuck in my mind from the lecture - and which has great relevance to my ongoing siege gaming - is him saying that in the 15th century bombards would have to be placed no further than 40 paces from a wall to have a chance of creating a breach.

I can't finish without revisiting the Spofforth solecism. As reported previously, in chapter 1 this castle was incorrectly reported as being in Northumberland. However, in chapter 2 we find the Duke of Exeter and Lord Egremont raising forces in Yorkshire at a place called Spofford; Egremont of course being another of those hot-headed chaps in whom the Percy family specialised. He doesn't make it to chapter 3 - spoiler alert - having been killed at the battle of Northampton. However, he does variously feature in the text as both Egremont and Egremond. Do I detect an homage to Hergé from Dr Spencer?

"If my name's Egremont we won't get to chapter 3." "To be precise, we won't get to chapter 3 if my name's Egremond."

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